Excellence vs. Perfectionism

Perhaps one of the greatest challenges for high performers to overcome is how to avoid the constant temptation to achieve perfection when excellence is good enough.  Take a couple of minutes to think of the difference.  Perfectionism is an ideal that by its very nature is usually unattainable.  It requires more and more effort to get decreasingly better results.  It is an excuse for never finishing or never ending a project.  It fuels an unkind view of yourself as you are constantly failing because perfectionism is usually unattainable.

Let me start by saying I am not talking about the most pathological form of perfectionism but rather the type that gets high potentials derailed because it holds them back from turning out good work in a timely manner.  This is a very serious issue in the workplace, especially for those starting out a marketing career.  Early in one’s career it is easier to get closer to perfection by getting all A’s in school, hitting your target of sales calls a day or mastering sales training.  As jobs become more complex, like in Marketing, the measures of perfection are less concrete and impossible to visualize.  When there is no clear cut point of perfection it can become a constant search for better and better without ever reaching an end.  This is a chase that needs to be stopped.

Take a look at this piece that discusses perfection and the ways to overcome the trap of perfectionism.  Note the author starts by pointing out just how big a problem perfectionism really is and then goes on to give a few pointers on how to overcome it. The first step is that you need to recognize that good enough really does mean good enough.  When you get to good enough, stop.  The second step is to quit comparing yourself or your life to the make believe world seen in the media.  It really is make believe which means it is not real.  Too much time can be spent chasing the unreal while reality passes you by.  Finally, the author talks about setting human goals for yourself and working with and for others that have the same expectations.  Be kind to and realistic with yourself and others.

Perhaps the first step is to gain some perspective on things.  Think if you were hiring a landscaper or somebody to paint your house and you contracted with them by the hour.  How much perfectionism would you put up with before the cost of the job became ridiculous. You would clearly understand the concept of good enough, right?  You would expect excellent work and then would consider that good enough.  That is all you want to pay for.  Why would you think your employer would be willing to pay for you to be a perfectionist?

Take a look at those who run your organization and most other major companies and you will clearly see they are not perfectionists.  They have mastered the concept of good enough and more importantly understand that success requires getting things done in a timely manner.  Quantity of work is very important.  As Seth Godin constantly reminds us you need to ship product to be successful. Planning and fine-tuning can’t go on forever.  If you find yourself constantly working harder and not finishing projects do a little self inspection to see if you are suffering from perfectionism.

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